Kurt Christensen is a farmer by trade, but he discovered a bumper crop of valuable basketball cards last weekend.
Christensen, who runs the popular Vintage Wax and Packs group on Facebook, located and purchased a box of 1986-87 Fleer Basketball with 36 packs that had originally been purchased through a small Minnesota store in the year of issue. At the time, packs were 40 cents.
Of course, the set is famous for having the rookie card Michael Jordan. A typical box contains three of his rookie cards and three or four of the Jordan rookie insert sticker.
“It is the epitome of a find,” said Christensen, 36, who grows corn and raises cattle in the northwest Iowa town of Spencer and also enjoys collecting unopened product. He talked about his latest treasure Wednesday, moments after wrapping up his morning chores on the farm.
Each pack has the original price tags from a general store, Thrifty Snyder. Christensen traveled 233 miles on Feb. 26 to Winona, Minnesota, to view the unopened packs after he was contacted by a friend who pointed him toward a longtime collector.
“He was nearing retirement and wanted to add some funds to cover that,” Christensen said.
In 1986, the original owner bought two boxes of the now famous product from a general store, Thrifty Snyder, in Winona. The 40-cent price stickers remain on the packs. The collector, who already had a set of 1986-87 Fleer, said he bought the box for less than $18. He had stored it in his home for more than three decades, and while he knew what he had, he “almost never touched the box for 35 years.”
“He likes to have one of everything,” Christensen said. “He pulled some Jordan rookies and figured there was no need to open the second box.”
A knowledgeable collector and dealer of vintage packs, Christensen was shown photos of the box and packs but before closing the deal, he wanted to see them in person. It is not uncommon for unscrupulous collectors to swap out the packs known to contain a Jordan card with other packs, certainly diminishing the value of the box.
After viewing the box, Christensen was convinced he had a gem.
“I do believe they’ve not been touched,” he said.
Christensen made the deal but did not say what he paid, only to volunteer that it was “a lot.”
But box in hand, Christensen made a 3.5-hour detour from Winona to meet with another collector friend at a motel in Rockford, Illinois.
“We went through them pack by pack, examining them,” he said.
Christensen explained that the 1986-87 Fleer set is “fairly sequenced,” so it would be easy to spot if someone tampered with the box. Typically, a 36-pack box yields three Jordan rookies, sometimes four. The pack wrappers are red at the top and blue at the bottom, with white in the middle. It is possible if the card is properly positioned and the lighting is good, to see which card is first in the pack. If you see the card on top and know the sequence, you can ascertain whether a Jordan lies below.
“A clean box should have three Jordan rookie cards,” Christensen said.
He added said the top, or trigger card in each pack that contained the Jordan rookie would be either Atlanta Hawks guard Gus Williams, New Jersey Nets forward Albert King or Houston Rockets guard Allen Leavell.
The 132-card set also had an 11-sticker subset. That means a collector could receive three or even four of a particular player. The stickers lineup is already loaded, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing and Magic Johnson in the mix — along with Jordan. The sticker is on the bottom of each pack.
Christensen believes there are three Jordan rookies inside the box, adding that there also appeared to be four MJ stickers.
“I was lucky,” he said.
Christensen believes the price stickers on the packs adds to the provenance of the product.
“Without a doubt, among all of the unopened product I’ve bought, this is on a pedestal above anything I have,” he said.
Christensen drove to Baseball Card Exchange in Schererville, IN for another opinion, leaving the box to be wrapped. Then came the long, seven-hour drive back to Iowa.
For Christensen, a basketball fan who grew up watching Jordan lead the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles, the find “brings me a lot of pride.”
When he gets the box back from Baseball Card Exchange, which will seal it with their label, it will be placed in a safe place. He does not plan to sell it at this point.
“I’m going to keep the box,” Christensen said. “I’ve had some extremely nice offers already for it, but it’s going into my safety deposit box.”
Christensen added that he is not going to open the packs or get them graded — for now. He is going to enjoy the fact that he has a box of legendary proportions.
“It was one of those things where you can dream, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have something like that?’” he said.
Now, he does.
While Christensen is on a collecting high, his real-life duties keeps him anchored in reality.
“I drove home Sunday, and on Monday I was hauling cattle manure,” Christensen said.